Category Archives: Design

Year of Open Source 2013 Calendar

Year of Open Source is a lifestyle and documentary project by Sam Muirhead. He is spending a year replacing as much as possible of what he does with open source alternatives.

As part of his fundraising effort he came up with the cleverest reward that I’ve seen in a long time: a swimsuit calendar featuring many of the world’s open source technology leaders. Of course, I had to have one, and now I do, hot off the presses from Berlin. If looking at mine isn’t enough for you then you can get your own, or just creep middle-aged cartoons in speedos, right here.

year of open source 2013 calendar

 

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Makeblock Is A New Modular Aluminum Extrusion System

Makeblock is here to solve your robot problems. The t-slot aluminum extrusion is a tried-and-true way of building modular frames, and even simple mechanisms. It works, but it has an Achilles Heel…the nut.

t slot nut boltThat nut has to be inserted into the slot so that the bolt can torque down on the beam. Some designs include a nut that can be inserted straight through the slot and twisted instead of needing to be slid in from one end (FAZTEK). Others turn the bolt around so that the head of the bolt takes the place of the traditional nut and the nut tightens down from the outside of the bolt (MakerBeam).

A new Kickstarter campaign does away with the nut all together. Instead of using a t-slot, they have a slot with parallel sides and just the right threading to allow you to screw in a nut at any point along the slot.

Makeblock looks like an extremely well integrated system for prototyping cyber-electro-mechanical systems. They have the modular beam system itself, but they also have their own electronics with the correct footprint to fit on the beams and adapters for common things like Lego and servos. Additionally, they have it working in the real world and appear to have the manufacturing muscle to produce a lot of the kits.

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Ford Officially Backing Open Source 3D Printers

In a press release Ford Motor Company bragged about using 3D printing in general, and the open source Makerbot Thing-O-Matic in particular, to develop some of the smaller plastic parts for its vehicles. Zack Nelson, the engineer in the video, lists the easy availability of design files and community support as benefits to using the open source machine.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

Continue reading

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Vagina Hacking by Scanlime, Open Hardware (Emphasis on Hard)

Beth over at scanlime is no stranger to building electronics. But this time she wanted to, well…in her own words, “create something new and exciting that I can immediately use in my everyday life. It also happens to be a sex toy.” Specifically, one of those little remote-controlled vibrating egg things.

She ended up producing a hack that is remarkably polished. She even designed and 3D printed a custom enclosure for the whole thing. If she had used neon pink plastic it would have been hard to tell that it wasn’t part of the original product.

She’s got an incredibly detailed description of the project on her blog. Personally, I think the most interesting part of the hack was her solution to the power problem.

This was getting complicated fast. Lithium polymer battery, a boost converter to raise the voltage to 5V for the sonar module, charging circuit, “fuel gauge” indicator. All of this work goes into every commercial product that runs on batteries, and we often take it for granted. As far as I’m aware, though, there isn’t a great equivalent for quick DIY prototyping. The Arduino Fio board is close to what I want: an Arduino with a built-in LiPo battery charger. But it doesn’t have the 5V boost converter or any way of monitoring the battery’s charge. Without designing my own PCB, I’d need several separate components: batteryfuel gaugecharge/boost. All total, over $45 and a lot more bulk and complexity than I wanted. I was really hoping there was a better option.

It so happens that this sort of amalgamation of parts is already pretty commonplace in the form of portable cell-phone chargers. These devices are very little more than a boost converter, charger, lithium battery, and a very basic fuel gauge. Best of all, thanks to economy of scale, they’re really inexpensive. The 3200 mAH battery I used in this project was only $22, and it’s something I can reuse for multiple projects… or even to charge my phone.

This is an elegant solution that can apply to an array of different projects. Once something becomes commoditized it can drop below the price point at which it makes sense to reproduce the functionality yourself. All wireless projects need power, and with cell phone chargers becoming cheap and easy to find it makes sense to just plug one into the project’s USB slot and call it a day. Not only is it cheaper and easier, but it’s modular because you can still use it for its original purpose.

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VehicleFORGE – DARPA’s Open Source Hardware Competition Is Open For Registration

I’m gonna start this post with a little bit of background. I’m a developer on various open source hardware projects, others and my own. Hardware has more barriers to entry than software, particularly when it comes to distributed collaboration. It’s not a matter of exchanging text files; you have to work with images, CAD files, videos, documents, etc and then there’s the problem of incompatible versions of multimedia. Even when everybody uses the same file formats, it can be difficult to convey all of the relevant information. And if you change anything it can be a huge issue. Then there’s the ever-present problem of turning the design into an actual physical thing.

What the open source hardware community needs is a common set of tools, but not just a few tools, an entire toolchain. I tried to work out a common file format and quickly realized that it’s not possible. You need a common database format, and not just a database, you need tools that can edit the project files without losing all the relationships in the database. Basically, you need an end-to-end development environment that links any random developer with all other developers, using identical file formats, and identical tools, that eventually produces a digital description of the machine that can be qualified and fabricated virtually.

It’s a huge undertaking. Without an end-to-end environment each piece is only marginally useful. The chicken and egg problem seemed almost insurmountable.

However, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) had the same thought, and they threw a lot of money at it. In an attempt to cut the development time of military vehicles by a factor of five, DARPA has created a complete, web-based, virtual development environment…oh and they’re releasing it under an open source license.

It’s called VehicleFORGE and for its first trick it will host a year-long, three-stage competition to design the Marine Corps’ next amphibious infantry fighting vehicle. It’s called the FANG Design Challenge and it’s open to any “U.S. person.” Yes, ANYONE (who doesn’t violate ITAR restrictions). All you have to do is register and, when the competition goes live on 14 January 2013, you’ll be able to design a vehicle using cutting-edge open source tools.

I just registered and I can assure you that, after poking around the members area for a while, VehicleFORGE looks polished. It’s only got a few controls, but they’re exactly what you need, they work intuitively, and it’s an overall slick experience. The only stuff that’s live at the moment seems to be the social network stuff (competitors and teams).

Speaking of which, if you’d like to join Team Openalia, just register and do a quick search or follow the link.

I’m fairly certain that the competition will be won by teams uploading a lot of high-performance parts that aren’t included in DARPA’s list of supplied components. However, participating will be a lot of fun. Lets see how well we can do against the other non-professional teams!

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The Fixer’s Manifesto v1.0- From The Inventors Of Sugru

If you like the Fixer’s Manifesto then you can also look at pictures of people holding it here, if that’s your thing. If you want to fork/hack/improve it you can do that on the github page. If all of that is just to “free as in beer” for you then you can also buy a print from Sugru (it comes with a pink pen for making edits…yeah).

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AtFAB – Open Source Furniture

AtFAB is hoping that you will think about having your next table, chair or shelf cut out on a CNC machine.

Their furniture is licensed under a Creative Commons non-commercial license, so you can do whatever you want with it as long as you don’t sell it. If you want to sell it, they seem open to the idea of giving you an individual commercial license.

Balancing openness with the inherent need to pay for hardware development is tricky. For example, AtFAB will give you the DXF files for the furniture, but only after you exchange a couple emails and sign up for their mailing list. That seems fair, especially considering they have a nifty little app that lets you change some of the parameters in the files before you download them. You can stretch the chair out into a bench or adjust the cutlines to account for different material thicknesses.

Open design has been around just as long as open hardware, and the two have a lot of overlap since you need something physical to design on. That being said, I’m split on whether or not it makes any sense to “design” open hardware. On the one hand it never hurts to make something look prettier. On the other hand, open source designs tend to be utilitarian (because they tend to be cheap and require as few manufacturing steps as possible) so trying to “design” them starts to look an awful lot like trying too hard. An angular little chair is still an angular little chair after you paint an orange stripe on it.

Additional links:

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